Lukewarm Stove: Báez Over Taylor for Boston? Mets Opening the Checkbook (Again), Is Matz an Option for Cubs? More

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Lukewarm Stove: Báez Over Taylor for Boston? Mets Opening the Checkbook (Again), Is Matz an Option for Cubs? More

Chicago Cubs

I love rumor season and I miss Novembers like this. In case you missed our first Lukewarm Stove of the day, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, and Carlos Correa are already taking meetings with teams (the former two could look to sign before December 1st), with the Tigers and Rangers at the center of it all. Meanwhile, the Rays are talking about a *massive* extension for prospect Wander Franco, Willson Contreras still doesn’t have an extension, and more.

And now the Friday night edition …

Báez Asking Price, Market

Jon Heyman has been connecting the Cubs to Javy Báez all offseason (always with the Mets as a close second), though his latest before today had the Red Sox as one of “many teams” showing interest in the former Cubs shortstop. But there’s a bit of an update to that report during his spot on MLB Network: Along with a reiteration that it could require $160 million to get Báez in the door, the Red Sox might actually see Chris Taylor as a better fit than Báez (whom Heyman is still guessing goes to the Cubs or Mets)

And that – the Red Sox part – tracks with Brett’s discussion when the Red Sox rumor was first floated (emphasis mine):

On the Red Sox, Báez would make sense at second base, with Xander Bogaerts entrenched, successfully, at shortstop. Báez has previously said he would stick at second base for the Mets, and would be wise generally not to close off the possibility elsewhere if it expanded his market. The problem, obviously, is that a shortstop-needy team should, in theory, be willing to pay more for a guy they really like at shortstop than a second-base-needy team would be willing to pay at second base.

That said, at a gut level, this has the feel of a rumor being floated from Báez’s camp to remind interested teams that he’s going to have options out there at second base, in addition to the Mets. So it’s a poke at the Mets to step up, but also a reminder to the shortstop market that he doesn’t have to wait for them.

A little bit here, a little bit there? Maybe. I’m sure the Red Sox have a preference, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not serious about Báez. Can you imagine if they re-signed Kyle Schwarber (which seems like something on which they’re keen) *and* got Báez? I’d be one jealous fan.

In any case, the Mets are serious about Báez. Their new GM said so himself:

And Báez even had dinner with Steve Cohen, per Cohen himself.

Mets Gonna Spend BIG (Again)

Speaking of which, I think the Mets know they have a fan base to win over (again), and Steve Cohen’s going to do it the only way he knows how: throw money around.

Per Jeff Passan: “I’m willing, for the right deals and right free agents, to go get the players we need. We want to be competitive. We want to win our division and be in the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs. I’ve let Billy and Sandy know: It’s whatever they need.”

And I don’t know if Bob Nightengale was just responding to that quote or was hearing something else, but he did say “New GM Billy Eppler given open checkbook and authority to make the moves to get the #Mets back into the playoffs,” for whatever that’s worth to you.

So what might that mean, outside of the obvious (Báez/a second baseman)? Well, starting pitching, for one:

Red Sox, Matz, and the Cubs

Circling back to the East Coast (what are we, Sports Center?!), the Red Sox are looking at starting pitchers and have been in touch with one potential Cubs target, Steven Matz:

Matz, 30, was one of those Mets arms often bandied about anytime someone mentioned the Cubs needs for young pitching and the Mets needs for bats. He’s had an up and down career, had Tommy John surgery all the way back as a prospect (2010), but is coming off arguably his best season yet: 29 starts, 150.2 innings pitched, 3.82 ERA, 22.3% strikeout rate, 6.6% walk rate, and a 45.5% ground ball rate. And after allowing way too much hard contact in 2020 (13.5% barrel rate and a 91.5 MPH average exit velocity), Matz got that under control in 2021, bringing the former down to a solid 7% and the latter under 88 MPH.

But setting all that aside, there’d be two larger reasons the Cubs might be interested: (1) Matz has a solidly above average fastball (95 MPH on average), which is something the Cubs *must* prioritize in any addition to a 2022 rotation that already features Wade Miley and Kyle Hendricks.

And as you can see, his fastball velocity has been ticking up the last couple of years.

And (2) Matz is not connected to a qualifying offer, which means signing him would not cost the Cubs their high second round draft pick, the associated bonus pool space, and IFA money.

Early projections for 2022 have Matz at 29 starts with an ERA about 5% better than the league average pitcher. The Cubs would still be lacking an ace, but Matz could be a very useful, sure-fire starter. Oh, and I suppose we can throw some contract predictions at the wall while I’ve got you: Kiley McDaniel projects a two-year, $25 million deal for Matz at ESPN ($12.5M AAV). Ben Clemens projects three years and $42M ($14M AAV), and the median crowd source at FanGraphs has him at three years and $38.3M ($12.8M AAV).

Those are reasonable overall commitments. I think I want the Cubs to sign Steven Matz.

Blue Jays Wish List: Two More SPs, IF

But here’s a bucket of cold water for you: The (expected to be very active this offseason, particularly with starting pitchers) Toronto Blue Jays are already in talks with Matz, as well as Robbie Ray (both of whom were Blue Jays last season). And unfortunately, they’re not content with adding just one more starter, according to latest from Robert Murray:

The Toronto Blue Jays have made building up their rotation a priority this winter. They proved that by signing Jose Berrios to a seven-year, $131 million contract extension earlier this week.

“But the Blue Jays need two more starting pitchers, including another top-of-the-rotation arm, and remain in talks with pitchers Robbie Ray and Steven Matz, sources said, with one source saying that the team has “prioritized” the two free-agent left-handers.”

The Blue Jays were reportedly in on Andrew Heaney, Eduardo Rodriguez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Verlander before they signed their deals, so, yes, it looks like their pretty serious and aggressive. And for whatever it’s worth, there’s a throwaway line about their financial flexibility to sign “Marcus Semien or any other free agent.” I can’t quite tell if that was purposefully vague to illustrate a point or an indication that Semien is an actual target. So do with it what you will.

Odds and Ends:

•   Heyman notes:

•   Roster shuffling moves:

•   Aaron Judge extension talk:


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami